Today, it’s our turn to speak, to set out our red lines. Barnier, as we reported yesterday (see here), had his astounding go on Tuesday and yesterday put more fuel on the fire in a speech in the EU Parliament. Over here, ‘sources’ were dropping hints on what might be in the mandate for our negotiators. 

I am not sure if Brexit has simply become boring for most of our MSM or if the Remain ones think that there’s nothing to write about it unless it can be squeezed into the usual “EU good – UK bad” template. In any case, people are too thick to understand and Prince Harry and the Coronavirus is far more important, innit like.

But M Barnier did speak again, and he did have some more warnings for us. It’s the well-known carrot-and-stick method:

“Mr Barnier said the EU would offer “unprecedented” trading terms if the UK agrees to rules that stop unfair competition. He warned Brussels would not “take the risk that the UK becomes a kind of assembly hub” for goods from all over the world.“ (link)

Take note of the expression ‘assembly hub’. This is meant to belittle our country: we are too benighted to produce anything ourselves, we can only assemble parts sent to us by other trade nations, as if we’re a 3rd World country. Presumably no EU member state is an ‘assembly hub’ … To make certain that everybody understands the carrot and the stick Barnier repeated himself:

“He added: “We are ready to offer to the UK super-preferential access to our markets – a level of access that would be unprecedented for a third country. Is this something we can do without firm guarantees that the UK will respect the level playing field and avoid unfair competitive advantages? The answer, I’m afraid, is simple. We cannot. We want competition in the future but it must be fair – fair and free.” (link)

A cry about wanting “fair competition” – coming from a Frenchman? Are you having a larf, Michel? The Times reports on a different aspect of that Barnier speech, and in good old Remain fashion the item they focussed on is because they had to show, surreptitiously, how puny and helpless we are in the face of the mighty EU:

“All British goods entering the European Union will be checked to ensure that Britain does not become an “assembly hub” for China or America next year, Michel Barnier warned yesterday. The EU’s chief negotiator said that even with a positive outcome to post-Brexit trade talks, full customs checks would be needed to determine the origin of British goods. All goods coming from the UK as they do from China or the US will have to be checked at the border of the single market.” (link, paywalled)

In other words – no matter how good and diligent we are, bowing to Brussels, those customs checks will be made. I’d like to know if M Barnier means we cannot sell ready-made chicken meals to the EU  – not that the French would ever touch such an abomination! – unless we prove there’s not a bit of chlorinated chicken in them? Hm. For emphasis, RemainCentral quotes the Man himself, that new expression ‘assembly hub’ included:

“Of course we love ‘Made in Britain’ but we must guarantee that the goods we import from the UK — tariff and quota free — really are British,” Mr Barnier said. We cannot take the risk that the UK becomes a kind of assembly hub for goods from all over the world, allowing them to enter the single market as British goods.” (link, paywalled)

It doesn’t seem to have dawned on dear Michel that this insistence on border checks cuts both ways. I recall the uproar some years ago about horsemeat being sold as ‘beef’ in ready meals made in EU countries. So I expect our border control to be very diligent. We can’t have imports from that ‘assembly hub’ called the EU, now can we –  that wouldn’t be that famous ‘level playing field’ at all, would it, M Barnier!

The other ‘conditions’ regarding social and environmental ‘standards’ on which M Barnier insists are also interesting. Perhaps we shall demand the EU adapt to our standards, in workers’ rights, animal welfare and environment, where ours are higher and better than those in EU member states who presumably want to import to us. It cuts both ways, Michel, remember?

And so to ‘our’ red lines, leaked from No10. If Johnson will really do this then I, for one, will actually and officially be really, truly amazed:

“The Prime Minister has made it clear that he will not be bound by the political declaration attached to the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which sets out the ground rules for a trade deal. […] The Prime Minister believes he is within his rights to go back on previous agreements covering areas including borders, fishing rights and state aid.” (paywalled link)

The reasoning behind this change is breath-taking – not that I’m criticising, I’m just flabbergasted:

“The declaration – originally requested by Theresa May – is a statement of intent from both sides setting out their broad aims for a trade deal. Mr Johnson signed up to it when Parliament passed the Withdrawal Agreement in January. However, Number 10 pointed out that Brussels had quietly dropped some of the commitments it made in the political declaration when it published its own negotiating mandate earlier this week, proving that it is not a binding agreement. Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Withdrawal Agreement is an international treaty – the political declaration is not of that status.” (paywalled link)

Are we really seeing some fundamental changes in our negotiating stance? Having abolished the DexEU department, the ‘task force’ for negotiating looks to be quick out of the blocks and on the ball. Here are particulars:

“Among the previous agreements Mr Johnson will ditch when he publishes the UK’s negotiating mandate are an acceptance of a “level playing field” designed to yoke Britain to EU standards and regulations, an agreement to negotiate over fishing rights and rules governing state aid.” (paywalled link)

To make quite certain that the rationale for this development is understood by all the DT reports details in what looks to have been a government-sanctioned leak:

“Earlier this month, Mr Johnson said “early progress” on agreements over financial services and personal data protection would be “a test of the constructive nature of the negotiating process”. But pledges in the political declaration to reach an agreement on financial services by June 2020, and on data by the end of December, were dropped by Brussels when the EU’s negotiating mandate was published. Government sources said that meant Mr Johnson was fully entitled to ignore elements of the political declaration. Britain will refuse to sign up to EU rules on state aid, and will not build any infrastructure to deal with customs declarations on goods crossing from the mainland to Northern Ireland despite EU demands that they must exist.” (paywalled link)

That is quite a remarkable little bomb, detonated on the quiet by No10. Like Barnier, like the MSM who believe in reinforcing arguments by repeating them, let me repeat my questions: are we seeing the first glimpses of a profound change in the Whitehall culture of Remain? Are we seeing the effect of Brexiteers in the Treasury, Foreign Office and especially the office of the Attorney General, now held by that staunch Brexiteer Suella Braverman?  

Is the ‘culture’ in  Whitehall and No 10 finally changing from “The EU won’t like it” to “Eff off, EU”? Fingers crossed while we wait for today’s presentation of Johnson’s official ‘Red Line’ which should really be a line of Union Jacks. Until then I won’t  count chickens, chlorinated or not, before they’re hatched.




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